You might have forgotten about Marcus Williams. Let me refresh your memory: he was the point guard for a UConn team that was considered one of the most talented of the past decade, and played well enough to become a first-round pick of the New Jersey Nets. After a few successful years in the NBA, Williams left to go play overseas, where he has developed into one of the best PGs in Russia and all of Europe. Recently, he just signed on to play next year with UNICS Kazan in the Russian Professional Basketball League.
With all the talk around Deron Williams signing to play in Turkey, and with Josh Childress and Lance Allred warning players about the differences, I caught up with Williams to talk about what the most difficult adjustments are, both on and off the court.
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Dime: Talk a little bit about your experience out there. What was it like? And with all these guys looking to go over, what are some of the things they will have to adjust to that you’ve gotten used to?
Marcus Williams: I think the gameplay is a complete 180. Here, there’s more space it seems like and it’s more open, it’s more free world. Over there a lot of the game is half-court, a lot of the offense…like if you get a fast break somebody will foul you before you actually get the fast break started. They don’t really want the game to be up and down, and that makes it difficult for players who like to run.
It’s a lot more physical over there as far as fouls not being called. It’s just completely different from here. Completely different.
And I think as foreigners, you don’t really get as many calls as the guys who are from there. They tend to take it a little rough on you.
Dime: I think it was Josh Childress who said since you’re an American or an NBA player that you should be able to take it and play through it. Is that what you mean?
MW: Right. I think they look at that and say, “Oh, he’s supposed to be good. We shouldn’t worry about him getting fouled or anything like that.” But in all actuality, it’s a foul anywhere in the world. When you get slapped across the back of the head, it’s a foul wherever he’s playing at.
So, those are the big standouts for me on the court. Off the court, I know it would be difficult for a lot of guys who are so accustomed to things in America. With everything. Everything. I mean, language is different. You’re going to get frustrated because you’re not going to know what everyone is talking about. Everyone doesn’t know English. The living is different. There’s a lot of things. Everything is foreign. It’s foreign. Everything is.
Dime: Like you were saying it’s not as open. Everything is more half-court. For you, you’ve always liked to get up and down right?
Dime: What have you had to do to change your game?
MW: It was rough at first because I would be the only one trying to fast break and my team would kinda walk up because they are accustomed to just not running. But I think it worked in both of our favors because then they realized we could get easy points if we just sprint sometimes. And I think it helped me because I would have to slow down and I would have to pick my spots on when to score or try to make a play for someone else. So I think it just helped my game all-around, as just not being an up-and-down guard but being a half-court guard as well.
Dime: Definitely. You’re only allowed a certain number of Americans on your teams right?
MW: I think you can actually have up to six foreigners, so you can have three Americans, two guys from Serbia or however you do it.
Dime: Who are some of the guys that you’ve played with over there?
MW: The only American that was on my team last year was Lonny Baxter. But in the league, there’s Zoran Planinic, Keith Langford, Trajan Langdon, J.R. Holden…I can’t think of anybody right now. Who else? Davon Jefferson…
Dime: With the off court stuff, everything’s completely foreign. What were some of the biggest adjustments you had to work to overcome once you went over there?
MW: Um, I mean the food was real different. You really didn’t want to eat anything because you didn’t trust it. You couldn’t ask what was it. A lot of the menus, you got to point at the picture, you don’t really know what’s in it, if it’s good. But we had a translator, but he wasn’t always with us. That was one of the big differences for me. What else?
Foreigners can’t drive. You had to depend on a driver to be there. I mean there’s just a lot of different…a lot of small things that kind of add up. At first I was kinda overwhelmed, but I got over it those first few months, those first few weeks.
Dime: For your career, what’s the status for you as far as trying to get back into the league?
MW: I been talking to my agent and we both kinda came to the realization was I’m not so much looking for an NBA team because I would rather play somewhere and get the same amount of money that I would get in the States and be a third-string or a second-stringer that’s playing 15 minutes a game. I don’t wanna go to be in the NBA just to be in the NBA. Like I like basketball and I wanna play.
Dime: What do you remember about your time in UConn? As you’ve become a professional, has your role changed or stayed the same like it was at UConn?
MW: At UConn was one of the best years of my life. I mean that was fun. And all of the guys that are on my team, I still kinda keep in touch with them. But my role at UConn when I first got there…I really didn’t have one. I had guys around me who could score and I would make plays for them and those guys were scoring. So my assists would add up so now I guess I’m considered a passer. But in college, I was a scorer so I could always knock down open jump shots. I could always create for myself.
And now where I am in Russia, I was top five in scoring, I was first in assists. So I kinda just had the ball in my hands most of the game anyways. So I guess you could say it’s the same role in college as it is now: score when you can and make plays when you can’t score.
Dime: With a guy like Deron Williams trying to come player overseas, a lot of people were wondering if he would get star treatment. What do you think?
MW: I think he’ll get treated like everyone else over there, if not worse. He’s a big-name going over there, and they might kinda try to prove their league is just as competitive as the NBA. You don’t know what someone’s motives are. I dunno, I think he’ll be treated the same as everyone else does.
Dime: For you, what kinda stuff do you like to get into during the summer? And when will you head back over to Russia to start playing?
MW: My summer pretty much consisted of working out, hanging with my friends â€“ I mean I haven’t seen them for 10 months â€“ so hanging with my friends, playing video games. Not doing too much, just gym and regular stuff, going shopping, playing video games, hanging out.
I will probably head out in probably mid-to-the end of August.
Dime: Okay. And you stay out there for 10 months.
MW: From August to…well maybe not 10 but nine, from August until May.
Dime: You mentioned you play a lot of video games. Which ones are your favorite?
MW: Call of Duty. NBA 2k. Madden. College football.
Dime: Do guys overseas play as well? Are there hobbies similar to the people you hang around with here or is it different?
MW: Not the sports games. They play a lot of shooting games. Call of Duty is about the only game I’ve seen that a majority of the people play.
Dime: As far as what you do overseas, I’ve heard a lot of teams have itineraries for what they do every day. They control your entire day or parts of it. Is that the case with you guys?
MW: I think that’s only on the road. But sometimes we will practice twice a day. We’ll do a shooting session early and then practice later on. That’s probably the only schedule we have. We eat on our own. We got time at home for ourselves. We’re not programmed like that at home.
Dime: For you, you mentioned for youself that the NBA would be nice but you really just want to play. What would be a successful year for you next year?
MW: With the season coming up? Probably to get to a Euroleague Final Four and try to win your country championship and just be a big part of that.
What do you think?
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